After kicking off the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia series on Monday night in St. John, New Brunswick, the series gets ready to shift over to Kitchener where Team OHL will square off against Team Russia.
The series, split into six games, is combined of six regional CHL teams, all coming from the QMJHL, Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League for the first time since 2013. The series, in sponsorship with CIBC, is set to go through November 14th as a way for Team Canada to kick off its evaluation process prior to the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.
The first two games of the six-game series were hosted by the Saint John Sea Dogs and Moncton Wildcats before part two made the move to Ontario which will see a pair of games in both Kitchener and London. The charge, being led by Dale Hunter, will see a pair of games on both Thursday and Monday with Team OHL taking on Team Russia before the series moves West on Wednesday. At this point, Team WHL, represented by Mitch Love, will take on Team Russia in a two-game split that will see games played in both Prince Albert and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
The Kitchener Rangers will host Thursday’s game at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex before the London Knights then play host in game two with the puck being dropped at Budweiser Gardens. Once these two games conclude, the Saskatoon Blades will play host to game four before the puck drops one final time on Thursday for the fifth and last game to bring things to a close.
Ahead of the two-game tilt, the Canadian Hockey League made a flurry of moves, adding Guelph Storm teammates Cam Hillis and Nico Daws as well as Ottawa goaltender Cedrick Andree. Daws joins the OHL roster in replacement of Rangers starting backstop Jacob Ingham while Cameron Hillis was named on Thursday, a last minute roster move to replace Ryan Suzuki. The Barrie Colts forward and Ingham were scratched after suffering injuries and are unable to compete.
As for the likes of Cedrick Andree, he, as well, is a last minute move, an addition made to replace Hunter Jones who’s roster spot he will fill for game four on Monday. Jones, another OHL goaltender, is an active member of the Peterborough Petes. That wouldn’t be all for Team OHL in terms of transactions as they lost Graeme Clark from the 67’s on Wednesday who’s position will be taken by Damien Giroux. Giroux, 19-years-old, has been a standout centreman thus far in Saginaw, very well making the case to be added where he will fit right in with Cole Perfetti.
In a statement from Stephen Forbes who is the Executive Vice President of Brand, Purpose and Marketing at CIBC, he said with regards to the six-game tournament, “No other hockey rivalry ignites passion amongst hockey fans as the one that pits Canada against Russia. Fans across the country will be on the edge of their seats cheering on the Canadian teams during the action. Congratulations to the six host cities of the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series! We are looking forward to sharing in the excitement with our clients and employees in these communities, as we rally behind the team to reclaim the trophy.”
In taking a look at a pair of roster spots which have since been emptied and refilled due to injury, Nico Daws, who plays for the Guelph Storm, will be one of three goaltenders on Team OHL’s roster, meanwhile, Hillis, from Oshawa, adds yet another depth centreman for Team OHL should they need it in their two-game split. Speaking of which, Daws, a Canadian backstop, is currently playing in his third OHL season, meanwhile, he currently leads the league with a .933 save percentage. Additionally, the 18-year-old owns a 2.48 goals-against average and a 5-1-1-2 record through nine games played with the Storm this season.
Daws, who is 6’4, 202lb, was part of the Robertson Cup winning team last season alongside the likes of Cam Hillis in Guelph, both of whom will be playing together on Thursday. Most recently, the newly added goaltender was named OHL ‘On the Run’ Player of the Week, a title he received for the performances he provided during the last week of October which concludes last Sunday. Daws was selected by the OHL’s Guelph Storm with the seventh-round pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection.
As for centreman Cam Hillis, who is also the captain of the league’s defending champions, the 19-year-old centreman was selected last year with the third-round (66th overall) pick of the Montreal Canadiens and is currently in his third OHL season and off to a hot start at that to open the season. Speaking of which, the Enniskillen, Ontario native is currently seated for second in scoring on the team with 20 points recorded in 14 games played, five of which are goals and the other 15 assists.
Hillis did not play the full 2018-2019 season after his season was cut in half following what was a series of of lower-body injuries. This would see his shortened campaign consist of 22 points recorded in 33 games. For Hillis, Thursday’s game is not the first time he has competed in an OHL showcase as he took part in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in 2018 while playing for Team Cherry in Guelph. This of course being the case before he was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens. Hillis, a Team OHL member, was selected by the Robertson Cup champions in the second-round (29th overall) of the 2016 OHL Priority Selection.
After morning practice at The Aud on Thursday, The Puck Authority spoke with the Canadian centreman where he said with regards to his feelings going into the first of two games against Russia, “Good, I’m just treating it like any other game, I’m not gonna change too much. Obviously it’s just another game, so it’s gonna be fun tonight.”
Hillis also spoke about playing alongside Quinton Byfield who is projected to go second overall at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. To that regard, the Canadiens prospect said of his teammate, “Yeah, there’s a lot off special players in that room over there, so we’re all pretty good friends, we all played against each other growing up and play with each other, so he’s a pretty good player over there and he’s had a good start to the season, so I’m excited to see what he does tonight too.”
Cam Hillis was not the only one to express this feeling about the Sudbury Wolves centreman as Serron Noel was also asked for input and said the following with regards to his teammate, “Yeah, you know, like, I’m sure the guys have said it before, but, just unbelievable talent, rare blend of size, skill and speed and skating is just on another too, so I truly believe he could definitely push for the No. 1 spot. He’s capable of it and he’s just an all around excellent talent for sure.”
Coming off of the rink this morning after a morning shoot around and skate in Kitchener, Serron Noel said with regards to the game, “I felt good today, it was a good skate, it was good to get the nerves out and to skate with some of the new guys, so I’m really excited and I feel good for tonight.” In follow up, Noel was asked about playing with some of the guys he usually plays against and when speaking about the rare chance, the Florida Panthers draft pick said, “Yeah, it’s obviously exciting, you know, getting to play with some really skilled players, so I’m like I said, excited for the opportunity and just really excited to get going.”
With this tournament being the decider of who plays who doesn’t in the World Juniors, Dale Hunter, who is leading the charge, is keeping his eyes wide open through this series and for the Ontario leg, has additional guidance with the addition of the Andre Tourigny to help him out as assistant coach. Hunter has NHL experience having coached the Capitals in Washington for one season, but after that, he really made his mark, opting to return to his OHL position. Today, Hunter is the current co-owner, president and head coach of the London Knights.
After morning skate wrapped up on Thursday, Hunter met with the local media where he said with regards to his impression of the Russian team the OHL will be facing, “Well, they, you know, they’re a skilled team and they’re big and they’re a fast team and you’ve seen some of the plays they’ve made, individual plays that, you know, if you don’t play a team game, you get in a lot of trouble.”
Additionally, Hunter was asked about the mindset of Aidan Dudas who he named as captain and to that regard in describing the centreman’s play, the longtime London Knights executive said, “Well, he’s a, he never stops. You know, we’ve seen him a bit through the years here, he’s a worker and he can score. he plays both ends of the ice, so we want a complete player. Hunter would finish up in discussing his game plan for the evening against Russia and in relating that to the first leg and what was done with the QMJHL, he said, “Yeah, we basically gotta, are set in the Canadian way we wanna play when Team Canada’s always played, you know, we’re a hard forechecking team and, you know, we’ll forecheck hard again tonight, so we’re just basically the same plan that we had with the Q we’re gonna have with the O over here.”
After Hunter finished up with the media, Aidan Dudas spoke about being named the captain of Team OHL where he said in a sweet and short statement, “I know there’s a lot of great leaders that could wear the C tonight and, you know, I’m lucky enough to, you know, be able to represent Team OHL with the C, so obviously it’s a huge honour.”
Riley Damiani would finish things up when talking about his team going into the night where he said when asked about the talent that has been jam packed to make up Team OHL, “The high end skill on this team is remarkable and you really see it out there when we’re snapping passes around and getting a lot of opportunities and two-on-one’s, three-on-two’s, whatever it is, so I think the leaders have done a really great job in that room to really bring everyone together and keep it light, but at the same time, know what we’re facing tonight.”
A sellout crowd is expected in the third of a six-game series and with plenty to look forward to on Thursday night at The Auditorium, Team OHL squares off against Team Russia (1-1) with puck drop scheduled for 7:00pmET. The game can be seen nationally on CHL Live, TVA Sports and Sportsnet, meanwhile, NHL Network will be carrying the game in the United States.